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City explains future council meetings after death of 2 members

The City of Slaton has lost two members of council in the span of two weeks. Ward IV Commissioner Charlie D. Haynes Jr. died Dec. 18 and Ward I Weldon “Squeaky” Self died Dec. 29.

The Slatonite reached out to Mayor Lynn Nowlin and City Administrator Mike Lamberson to ask a series of questions regarding what will now occur in the next few months until May, when the next State scheduled election can take place.

They were asked a set of questions. Minor edits have been done only in cases of spelling or Associated Press style.

1. The Council is now two members short with the passing of Self and Haynes. How will City government handle meetings from now until the special election?

Answer: The City Commission will continue to meet for its regular meeting on the second Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. 

The City has recently obtained the technology to conduct its meetings via video conference and expects to begin doing so on Zoom in accordance with the Order of the Office of the Governor issued March 16, 2020, as long as that option is available. 

2. Last time Slaton was two members short, when then Mayor D.W. “Dubbin” Englund and Commissioner James “Buster” Tucker died, there was a question as to how the Council could have a quorum with just the two Council Members and the Mayor. Can you explain how quorum works and how it is still legal to have items pass with just two Council Members?

Answer: Article VI, Section 18 states that “three (3) members of the commission shall constitute a quorum to do business, and the affirmative vote of a majority shall be necessary to adopt any ordinance or resolution.” 

Article VI, Section 1 of the City Charter states that “The governing and lawmaking body of the City of Slaton shall consist of four (4) Commissioners and one (1) Mayor, and said body shall be known as the “Commission of the City of Slaton.” The Mayor “may participate in the discussion of all matters coming before the Commission and shall be entitled to a vote as a member thereof on all legislative and other matters.”  (Article VI, Section 13 of the City Charter). When read together, these provisions of the City Charter mean that the Mayor is counted to establish a quorum, three members is a quorum and a majority vote of the quorum present (or two of three when three is the quorum) controls. 

3. What will happen should there be issues such as

a. Lack of quorum,

b. A situation where a council member has to abstain from a vote due to conflict of interest? How could this affect issues such as spending bills?

Answer:  If all three of the remaining members of the commission cannot attend a meeting, there would not be a quorum and the meeting would need to be rescheduled.  Unless there is a legal conflict, council members have duty to vote. Abstentions cannot be counted as an affirmative vote so for the purposes of the law and vote strength, abstention equals a zero or neutral vote.  If any of these situations arise, the City Attorney will be consulted, and Texas law will be followed.

4. Can you explain a bit in regard to how the vacant positions will be filled? Will there be an ability to fill in someone as interim until the general election, and why or why not this is possible? (Note: this is being done due to the situation caused when Lynn moved up to Mayor).

Answer:  Article VI, Section 7 of the City Charter states: “Vacancies in the commission or mayor shall be filled by special election for the remainder of the unexpired term, as provided by ordinance.” Section Sec. 1.02.001 of the City’s code of ordinances states that “all elections pertaining to affairs of the city shall be governed by and conducted in accordance with the election laws of the state, specifically, V.T.C.A. Election Code.”  The City Attorney has reviewed these provisions and have concluded that the specific Charter provision controls.  Accordingly, the City must call a special election, and conduct that special election in accordance with the Election Code.  Pursuant to the applicable section of the Election Code, the special election to fill these vacancies will be held on the next uniform election date, or Saturday, May 1, 2021.

5. Wards I and IV will be down a council member until the next election block, which is in May. They may feel as though they have no representation. What can constituents in those Wards do as far as addressing concerns or opinions to council?

Answer: The Mayor is “elected from the city at large” and is happy to hear from constituents from each Ward.

6. For those wishing to file for the position of either commissioner for the special election, what requirements will they need to meet in order to qualify? Please add any details too as far as what their tenure would be as well (I think both unexpired terms, but just for clarification as Ward II was open nearly a year plus a few months).

Answer: The candidate must be a resident of the Ward for which she/he seeks election.  Article VI, Section 4 of the City Charter and Texas Election Code Section 141.001 sets forth the qualifications for the office of commissioner, which generally are as follows:

1) Be a United States citizen;

2) Be 18 years of age or older upon the commencement of the term to be filled at the election;

3) Has been a resident of Texas for at least 12 months as of the deadline for filing for the office;

4) Has resided in the city for at least 6 months as of the deadline for filing for the office;

5) Has not been convicted of a felony for which he or she has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities;

6) Has not been found mentally incompetent by a final judgment of a court; and

7) Be a registered voter.

Ward IV will be an unexpired term till May 2022

Mayor, Ward I, and Ward III will be regular terms till May 2023.

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